Filthy Lucre

I received an email yesterday from another artist, bemoaning the paltry sums people are willing to pay at local shows and galleries. For your interest and possible edification, here is my reply. If you have any thoughts on the matter do let me know!

“The problem is perceived value. I have to paint to make a living – I produce architectural illustrations (artist’s impressions) for architects and developers, and when times are good(!) I make a very comfortable living. My clients realize that a good illustration will sell the scheme and so they are happy to part with the cash. When it comes to fine art, however, there are very few who would consider paying a decent hourly rate and buy as an investment – it’s more a case of finding something nice and cheap to match the curtains. No consideration is given to the time and effort the poor artist has had to put into it.

I have exhibited in a couple of local shows and galleries and my experience was exactly the same as yours. I have been fortunate, however, in gathering a small cult following who are prepared to pay a reasonable price. Last year I made a record sale of several thousand pounds for a large watercolour, but commissions like that are few and far between…

I’m afraid the only way to really succeed as a professional artist is to exhibit with a prestigious London gallery; there are also a few in the provinces worth a mention, but generally speaking London, sadly, is the place to be.

So in a nutshell, I’m waiting for the building industry to pick up so I can back to illustrating; I can then spend some time painting for fun. Because, in the end, we all paint because we enjoy it – it shouldn’t be about the money.”

architectural illustration - watercolour
architectural illustration - watercolour

9 thoughts on “Filthy Lucre

  1. …as are architects who work at the moment!
    Thanks keith, will keep at it and will keep an eye on your page-
    banner piece reminds me of masked pastel effects; the light glare
    is very evocative.



  2. Hi Keith.

    I’m an architect in Dublin.
    Nice to see your bold use of colour, n.b. grass roofs pic-
    I had a great art teacher years ago who said don’t be afraid to
    colour the whole page.
    Thanks for inspiration.



    1. Thanks Ray
      Colouring the whole sheet is a great way to convey atmosphere and mood; it’s a technique I used for the banner image. The grass roofs pic was painted more directly however, as I wanted the white paper to show through and give it sparkle. Thinking about it (which I don’t do too often!), I tend to use the latter approach for illustrations and the former more for topographical paintings. I like the painting on your blog, by the way, and it’s good to see there are still architects out there who can draw! You’re becoming a rare breed…


  3. Hi Keith.

    First off, let me say I love the work. Reminds me quite a bit of a cross between William Walcot’s stuff and Cyril Farey. I think Walcott’s work is much more controlled than it first appears, and Farey’s is much looser than it appears. Yours is very much like that to me.

    Wanted to comment on the discussion about fees. This is all probably very familiar to you, but may explain things from the illustrator’s side for those who don’t understand why an architectural illustration might be worth three, four, five thousand dollars, but a painting of the same building by a fine artist might not be as valued.

    I’m an architectural illustrator, but I’d never say that i’m an artist. I do know some illustrators who are also artists, and I know some artists who cannot illustrate.

    Fundamentally, illustration and fine art seem similar, but one is a service, and the other is a luxury. I wish art WEREN’T considered a luxury, but I think it always has been. Of course there are illustrator’s whose work becomes recognized as fine art… I’m just starting at the basic point of difference.

    What I do know is that much of my illustration work revolves around receiving a pile of incomplete contradictory documents, sketches, and verbal descriptions from an architect on a Friday, with a deadline for a Tuesday meeting where they need to communicate their project to someone who has very little time, and very much influence on whether the job will go ahead.

    That’s what, to me, makes my work valuable to my client.

    Consulting with an architect to present their building or idea in the best possible light is a skill that has value. Add a deadline, and give them the opportunity to sit over your shoulder the whole time offering direction, make design changes, etc. and suddenly there’s substantial fee accrued.

    I have said many times that if you were to hang one of my pieces in a gallery and offer it for sale, you’d get no offers… But to the architect who needs it in an hour, and is meeting with an approval board or financier, or board of trustees, it is very valuable. And they are willing to pay you to do that, because they know every time they come to you it will be done, done well, and do what it needs to do.

    For what it’s worth, I think your work is very fine indeed. It may be an illustration, but it is fine art as well.


    1. Thanks for your input Jeff – all valid comments! All I would say is that it’s a shame that it is only the commissioners of illustration who compensate for the time and effort put into the work. I have toiled just as much on “fine art” as I have on an illustration – often more so. The difference is that an illustration has an immediate commercial value; the client knows that it will sell his building and put money – a lot of money in comparison to the cost of the artwork – straight into his pocket. It is purely greed, er – I mean commerce, driven in the end. Anyone buying my art will have to wait until I’m dead before it is worth anything….!

      Funny you should mention Walcot and Farey though – I have works by both of them hanging on my wall! I have 2 signed etchings by Walcot (wish I could afford a painting) and some lovely pencil sketches by Farey. Therefore I’m more than flattered you made the comparison.


  4. I love architectural drawings and paintings and this one is terrific. I am insanely jealous of people like you who can draw well. It is always, ALWAYS a struggle for me.

    I really like looking at your work. And your son’s self-portrait is wonderful!


    1. I love architectural drawings and paintings and this one is terrific. I am insanely jealous of people like you who can draw well. It is always, ALWAYS a struggle for me.

      Thanks Carol. Drawing is so important, and the more you do, the better you get. I try to keep drawing to a minimum when I’m painting, but the few lines I do put down have to be right. Drawing is the foundation, and, as with buildings, if the foundations aren’t right you could end up like the 13 storey building in Shanghai which just toppled over.


  5. This is a finely detailed painting – I’m rubbish at perspective so I have even more admiration for someone who can depict a building accurately.

    Financial considerations have been a dilemma most artists face. My youthful passion to be an artist was greeted with ridicule and eventually I was persuaded that attending art college was a trifling self-indulgence to be abandoned in favour of an adult occupation – that would yield a living.

    Things have improved nowadays with the advancements of the internet and media, but without extreme luck playing a part, those bills need paying somehow. I’m fortunate that I don’t have to earn a living with my illustrations, but I’d love to get paid for some of them one day. Sigh!

    Many people sell their work on Etsy and Zazzle quite successfully, but it tends to be very affordable prints mostly.


  6. This is a worthwhile consideration. Maybe if Vincent van G had been less entitled and stooped to do some marketing he would sold more than one picture. Sweeping statements all but anyway. I have just read the story of WJM Turner – and he was not only a brilliant painter but was also a shrewd businessman – though also totally eccentric. He had peep holes in the walls in his gallery and if he caught you trying to sketch one of his paintings he would leap out of a secret door and turf you out. When people tried to haggle about the price of his paintings he just put the price up.

    I love this work Keith.

    Cheers hey Stephen


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